I can't remember when I began to wonder what my animal friends were thinking. As a child—growing up with Boots, a mixed "shepherd," I assumed she knew who she was and what she wanted to do with herself. I took her sniffing for granted, without questioning why she did it so much.
Only in my later years with DeeDee and Scooter in Los Alamos, did I begin to notice the dogs' intense interest in smelling particular twigs and rocks. Their dislike for bathing made me laugh, given their talent for blowing bubbles underwater while retrieving something smelly in the creek.
The PBS show "Super Senses" suggested that dogs know when its time for their owner to return home, because they can smell the precise decrease in that person's scent around the house. Dogs' capacity to smell saves lives by anticipating epileptic seizures and diabetic problems. They also detect disaster victims.
They are also so attuned to us humans, that they will follow a finger pointing to a cup hiding food. They will go to that cup once shown the food, even though the treat has been moved to a second cup. They are also stubbornly loyal to those "masters" who rely on them for constant companionship.
Here in California, I have seen a dog object strongly whenever his human is momentarily taken off alone for personal nursing care. But the most remarkable incident I've encountered involved an elderly friend dependent on her supply of oxygen. She travels the campus and the dining room with her oxygen cart and when taking her dog Sadie on a run with her electric car.
One night recently Sadie woke her mistress with an insistent whining. Normally she sleeps through the night. My friend got up to check the dog's water, asked Sadie if she needed to go out, looked her over, then puzzled, went back to bed. There she realized that her oxygen supply had quit. It was silent.
When she turned on the oxygen again, Sadie quit whining and returned to her bed. Though untrained, the dog knew that the machine's silence was not good. She had saved her sleeping lady's life by whining long enough to awaken her.